Working hard to keep our most special citizens safe and happy in unusual times

May 2nd, 2020 7:05 AM

By Emma Connolly

Anne-Marie Connolly and her mum Rosarie: Anne-Marie is keeping busy while cocooning with her mum in Timoleague, but misses the routine of her job in Field’s.

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Families and other carers of people with intellectual needs are finding that the current crisis means they must discover new ways to help their loved ones cope with a very different routine

WEST Cork’s services for adults and children with intellectual needs are working tirelessly to minimise the social isolation and distress Covid-19 is causing their clients and families.

CoAction works with 160 adults and 720 children in the area with centres in Skibbereen, Dunmanway, Clonakilty, Beara and Bantry.

Some of these would avail of their day services, and some their residential services. Some use them on a part-time basis, some avail of them full-time.

But, with the exception of those with high needs, like everyone else in the country, they are all now confined to home until at least the middle of next month.

What’s different, though, is that many of these vulnerable service users struggle to understand why, and those with elderly cocooning parents may find themselves vulnerable to isolation.

However, CoAction boss Gobnait Ni Chrualaoí said their 300 staff, who are still coming to work, are rising to the challenges, and employing huge amounts of creativity to ensure clients and families feel supported.

‘We are still supporting people with higher needs, and in other cases staff are going into people’s homes to help, while taking necessary precautions. But in most cases we are using Skype and Zoom to stay in touch with the family and with the clients themselves,’ she said.

Speech and language therapy and behavioural programmes are continuing online and every effort is being taken to maintain links and an element of normality.

Sinéad Doyle, director of services for adults, said their clients are no different to anyone else.

‘It’s a scary time regardless of your situation, and of course everyone is in such different circumstances. I’m struggling with isolation myself, so our clients are too. They’re used to coming in to us 9-5, Monday to Friday, but our staff are so invested in everyone,’ she said.

‘We’re linking with families weekly, if not more often. And as the weeks continue, those who may not have initially needed home support, are getting it now.’

She said a Bantry group called Outline are providing many clients with meaningful activities by dropping projects off at various houses.

‘They’re planning a boat race after this and are dropping things off  so that people can work on them which is wonderful,’ she said.

Dee Murnane’s sister Laurie Riordan (31) attends CoAction day services in Skibbereen, and has been accommodated in full-time respite since Covid-19 hit.

Dee, who lives in Bantry, explains how their mum passed away last year and their dad, who has dementia, lives in Skibbereen’s active retirement village in Skibbereen.

Until Covid-19 hit, Laurie, who has moderate intellectual disability and mobility issues and cannot live on her own, spent one night a week with him (with carers) and one weekend a month with her sister in Clonakilty, while also availing of respite in different CoAction houses.

She is now in full-time respite in Skibbereen. Dee described the CoAction service as ‘amazing’ and said Laurie was in great form, getting out walking and staying in touch via video calls.

Ironically, this is what Dee, her sister Cathy, and family have been campaigning for since their mum’s passing.

Meanwhile, Cope Foundation supports 92 people in West Cork with services in Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Macroom and Bandon.

Anne-Marie Connolly (47) is a Cope client who works part-time with Field’s SuperValu in Skibbereen, and who also attends the day centre in Clonakilty. Monday to Friday she lives in sheltered accommodation in Skibbereen, but is now cocooning at home with her mum, Rosarie in Timoleague.

Rosarie said: ‘Anne Marie loves her job and her routine, and misses all of that that terribly. But we’re after getting into a new routine now, and she enjoys her knitting, her ipad, her music and her walks. Her friends in Field’s have been in touch and so have Cope. She is asking a lot about when things will get back to normal, but in the meantime we’ll have to look out for one another.’

Cope chief executive Sean Abbott admitted the situation was especially difficult for the people they support: ‘This group normally enjoys great social interaction with people, either through their educational support, their work or in their residential accommodation. Those in our residential centres cannot see friends and families due to strict visitor restrictions. Those at home are missing their friends they would usually see every day at our day centres. For many, the upset this is causing to their daily routine is difficult to understand. As an organisation, we are about being a part of the community – it is a huge part of the work we do. Now, the physical community is not accessible for people we support, so it is a very challenging time for people.’

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